What’s it about? The classic manga The Genius Bakabon gets its first new anime adaptation since the 1970s. Is there still a place for its cast and their brand of comedy in the modern world?
Content Warning: Trans insensitivity.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show try this hard and so blatantly to be something else—and boy howdy, does Bakabon wanna be Mr. Osomatsu.
Family-friendly comedy transformed into a late-night sketch show? Check. A metric ton of pop culture references? Check. A premiere episode that deals with the characters’ anxieties about whether or not a modern audience will enjoy them, and how they should change to fit the current anime atmosphere? Double, triple, and quadruple-check. Hell, the show even has the titular Bakabon briefly split into six copies of himself so they can ride that sextuplet lust-train all the way to the bank.
Of course, this is not Mr. Osomatsu, and Director Hosokawa Toru (who’s mostly done screenplays to this point) is no master of the wacky comedy like Fujita Yoichi (of ClassicaLoid and Gintama fame). The result is not only an episode trying way too hard to be something else, but an episode with a poor sense for zany pacing. Each bit lasts just a little too long, each joke gets hit just a few too many times.
Oh, and that’s to say nothing of the gender confirmation surgery nonsense—but we’ll get to that in a second.
In fairness to Bakabon, the entire point of this first episode is that the family’s father (known only as “Papa”) is trying too hard to be trendy, and eventually he gets yelled at and the family starts over. So it’s hard to say if this style of comedy is going to be the series’ overall tone, or if it’s going to settle into something more sitcom-driven in the coming weeks.
In additional fairness to Bakabon, some of the jokes are pretty funny, even if they do drag them out for too long. The episode starts with the cast discussing the many things that have (or haven’t) changed in the last 40-odd years, complete with an anime version of X Japan’s Yoshiki—but voiced by Miki Shinichirou, since Yoshiki himself is very busy.
The rest of the run-time is spent on Papa desperately trying to update the show, which also has its high points. He changes his voice actor to the dulcet tones of Fukuyama Jun; has Black Jack (yes, that Black Jack) perform cosmetic surgery on him so he can “look cool like the Onihei anime”; turns a man sweeping the steps of his store into a roomba “because people don’t sweep anymore”; and converts all the parks in Tokyo into Hooters. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t chuckle a few times, especially during the early minutes.
And then Papa decides that just being a trendy-looking dude isn’t enough, and decides to get surgery so he can be the kids’ “Mama” instead. (And also a citizen of Cambodia, because Hashtag Diversity, I guess?) It’s a hell of a way to trivialize an important process for many trans folks, and conflates physical appearance with gender identity in a way that’s pretty troubling.
While it’s not a step the show should’ve taken in the first place, I will at least give them a nickel for not really treating it like a joke—it happens, there’s a moment of surprise, and then everyone moves on. The character has a slightly more feminine-coded voice but doesn’t put on any stereotypical “okama” behaviors, and Bakabon immediately respects the request to be called “Mama,” even correcting himself when he slips up.
Hold on, lemme find that bar Vrai had rolling around and see if we can set it any lower. Maybe embed it right into the bedrock…
With the exception of that insensitive plot point, this premiere is profoundly “fine.” I don’t love that it’s setting up a Homer-and-Marge dynamic between the troublesome husband and the down-to-earth wife, but she’s not treated poorly or like a buzzkill, at least. And who knows? Maybe they’ll balance out the wackiness between all four members of the family in the coming weeks.
While it definitely needs to decide if it wants to be a zany comedy centered around throwing fastball jokes at the audience (and adjust its pacing to be more rapid-fire) or a situational comedy about a goofball family (and adjust its jokes to be more character-driven), it’s not an awful first episode by any stretch. I won’t be coming back , but if you enjoyed the comedy of Mr. Osomatsu and the gender confirmation surgery nonsense isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for you, go ahead and give this one a try. You may enjoy yourself.